Dealing with the ‘Wobble’ stage

Not every baby has it but if your child has gone through a swimming ‘Wobble’ stage then it will be etched in your memory, it is a period of time that required the three P’s – Patience, Perseverance and Practise!

When babies hit a certain age in their development we sometimes see a show of rebellion, this is usually when they are learning to crawl, cruise round the furniture, culminating with learning to walk.  They are gaining independence and although as parents we welcome them growing and learning it does usually mean they gain a new confidence in themselves which may display as defiance in some situations.

Have you experienced months of a happy, compliant baby trying different exercises, comfortable in the pool and nonplussed by being taken under the water and then suddenly you have a screaming child that completely refuses to put their head under and cries at the sight of the pool or their teacher?  You are not alone – this is the ‘Wobble’ stage!

At Aquatots we made the decision not to take new starters after they had reached 18 months old.  This is because it is very difficult to teach a child with full blown confidence levels our submersion techniques.  At this age they become wary of new experiences and going under the water is more of a mental challenge than to a baby, who still has the survival mammalian and laryngeal reflexes which develop in the womb, but diminish as baby gets older hence why we encourage swimming from such a young age.

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Read some of our Aquatot Mum’s experiences below:

Fiona

“My son Gabriel is 2 years and 10 months, has today achieved Otter standard and is moving up to Seal next term. He is such a confident swimmer and diver now.  I am extraordinarily proud of him and indeed myself for getting this far because he spent at least a year hating his swimming lessons, crying beforehand, and crying, punching, pinching and kicking me during the lessons! We started swimming when Gabriel was 5 months old, which was a very difficult time for me personally as my marriage had recently ended and Gabriel’s father stepped out of his life. Our instructor Nicky was so patient and supportive of me, despite the fact that I didn’t seem to be able to hold my baby the right way in any of the exercises, and needed a lot of extra help!  Gabriel, however, loved those early lessons though and beamed all the way through. When Gabriel was about 18 months, when we were at around Seahorse level and I was just about getting the hang of my role, Gabriel flatly refused to take a breath when asked. He swallowed masses of water each time he went under the water, had terrible indigestion and was usually appallingly sick. We (I) practised taking a breath like mad at home in the bath, but Gabriel is extraordinarily stubborn and preferred to swallow water than cooperate. On a pool based holiday in Cyprus Gabriel screamed his head off if I even ventured near the children’s pool with him.  Eventually Gabriel had to go back down a class from Seahorse to Dolphin for half a term, which was really depressing.

Things very gradually got better once Gabriel hit 2 and a half this summer.  We went swimming outside the classes more, and I got more confident about letting him fiddle about in the water by himself, rather than trying to get him to practise the exercises we learned in class.  Also, Gabriel was suddenly a lot taller and stronger, he found himself able to stand in shallow pools for himself and had more control. Instead of playing with watering cans and teapots in the water, Gabriel wanted to plunge underwater again and again – but choosing for himself when, and so he was in control of holding his breath. He was still complaining about going to swimming lessons and fighting Mummy a lot in the lessons – and had to be threatened with swimming with Nicky not Mummy to make him vaguely cooperate. We then took another big step forward in September when we had two lessons a week for three weeks (catching up for a broken arm). Suddenly Gabriel cracked all sorts of things he had always struggled with – quite apart from the breath holding – diving under water for dive sticks, lying relaxed on his back in the water, sitting dives (rather than sitting slides).

I am not quite sure why I stuck with swimming when it was so miserable for both of us for so long. It wasn’t particularly that I wanted Gabriel to learn life-saving skills (although I do), but it was more that I didn’t want to give up – Gabriel gets his stubbornness from me! As well as learning the basics of swimming, Gabriel has learned respect for water and steers clear of the edges of ponds and swimming pools – which I hope will be as useful in lifesaving, as being able to swim up to the surface and back to the edge.”

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Julia

“Rhys starting swimming with Aquatots from about 6 months old, it started off fantastically and he loved the water.  When Rhys got to around 1 he started to get really upset, especially when he knew he was going under the water, we stuck with it but he started to cry for practically the whole lesson – it was horrible and what was annoying was I knew he could do it if he just let go of me!  I started to take Rhys swimming in the week and just let him play trying to make it fun, this helped for a while.  The crying started again though and went on for ages – way over a year. I made the decision to quit Aquatots and went swimming as usual and for some reason he didn’t cry so I took him back to lessons and Rhys was suddenly enjoying it.  By now Rhys was over 3 years old and all he wanted was badges -he was so determined he just did everything he was told and tried so hard”

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Cecilia

“Freya hit her wobble stage at the beginning of her second term, she was around 9 months old and was just becoming mobile. It started very suddenly as soon as we started the first exercise of the first lesson, I was shocked as during her Duckling lessons she loved doing everything.  Freya became very tense and rigid and would literally scream the building down. We knew she wasn’t cold as we swim at a hydro pool and it became clear as time went on that she was just being very stubborn! When we went swimming outside of lessons she would be fine until we started to practise any of the things we did during lessons  – then the screaming would start.

Our ‘Wobble’ lasted an epic 18 months (at times I nearly joined in with the crying as I was so frustrated). Our teacher was amazing during the whole process, she reassured me and advised me to not get out of the water at all during lessons even though we were not taking part in many activities, so we spent endless hours playing with squeezy toys on the pool steps and watching the other children having a great time. I would try to do as many exercises during the lesson as possible despite Freya’s continued vocal protests.

After a while it became very clear that she could do everything but just didn’t want to, or would not do it for me. At this stage our teacher would take Freya and do a couple of activities a week, Freya was not exactly willing to do this but she knew she would not get away without doing it. During one particularly bad lesson our teacher said that Freya was clearly taking everything in, and watching all the other children, she said one day she would probably just forget to scream and swim! I must admit that I never thought that this would happen but as we had invested so much of our time and energy in the lessons I decided that we would continue.

Freya was probably nearly three when everything clicked, I remember the lesson started as normal – screaming and trying to climb out of the pool, my heart sank and I remembered thinking I just can’t do this anymore. Then half way through the lesson the screaming stopped and Freya watched the other children swimming across the width of the pool with assistance. To my astonishment she pushed off from the side and swam, grinning when she got to the other side and saying “again Mummy”. We literally have not looked back since, we went from not wanting to go swimming to Freya being distraught to the point of tears when swimming was not on that week.

Since getting as far as we could with Aquatots we have since moved to swimming lessons at a local pool.  Her teacher commented last week on how competent and confident Freya is in the water much to her and my delight – she has ambitions to be an Olympic swimmer so watch this space!”

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These ‘Wobble’ stages are extreme but the important message is DO NOT GIVE UP!  Here at Aquatots we want swimming to be a pleasurable experience that you look forward to and for the majority of the time it will be BUT you can hit barriers and there may be times when you have to physically force yourself to lessons but rest assured that we have NEVER had a child that hasn’t seen it through to the ‘other side’ as long as you follow those 3 P’s – Patience, Perseverance and Practise.

As hard as it may seem at the time, try to be confident and relax as much as possible during the lessons.  We sometimes see parents that are experiencing the ‘Wobble’ stage get very emotional and frustrated and often feel teary…..your baby senses the change and then feels very insecure. This often drags out the ‘Wobble’ stage, the tenser you get – the more stubborn they can get!

We also advocate practising outside of lessons, this can be in the bath or during extra lessons at your local pool (try and choose times that are not too noisy and busy).  Invest in some toys that we use in our lessons. Our Aquatots get very excited when they recognise the fish, balls and zoggy dive sticks and it helps them interact during the lessons especially when they have a favourite toy to play with.  These can be purchased in our online store at http://shop.aquatots.co.uk .   You can also sing the songs from the lessons and practise the actions during the week, this all helps to reinforce what you have learned and encourages you both to relax in and out of the water.  You can now purchase a usb stick with all the Aquatots nursery rhymes on sung and acted out by Aquatot parents.  Please ask the office for further details.

We hope this helps reassure you, as an Aquatots parent we are always happy to support you and get you through this difficult period.

Thank you for reading, if your child has experienced the ‘Wobble’ stage and you can add any more advice please leave a comment or perhaps you are going through a difficult period now and have a question that you would like answered.

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